By Dr. Mara Karpel
“If we really love ourselves, everything in our life works.” ~ Louise Hay
“Before you can love others, you must love yourself first.” This is a platitude that we hear time and again. In fact, it’s become common, since the movie, The Secret, to hear it said that you can’t have what you want until you feel worthy of it. But, when it comes down to it, the idea of feeling worthy or loving oneself is a foreign concept to most.
Many of us go through life receiving negative messages from parents, so-called “friends,” partners, or even the media, telling us that we’re not whole unless we buy what they’re selling. When we accept these messages, we become focused on our own imperfections, rather than seeing ourselves for who we really are, beings that are “perfect” even in our imperfection. Author, Brene Brown, writes in her book, The Gift of Imperfection: “Perfectionism is self destructive simply because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.”
Here are 11 tips for increasing self-love right now:
1. Treat yourself like you’re worthy right now, even if you don’t believe it.
This includes taking care of your body, by eating a healthy diet and exercising. This also includes choosing to surround your self with positivity, rather than drama. If you’re spending time with people who don’t treat you well, assert yourself and set limits about how you are to be treated. Make it a point to reduce or eliminate the amount of toxins you ingest and the amount of time you spend with toxic people. And begin to take action toward achieving your dreams. Don Miguel Ruiz, spoke about turning our dreams into reality when he appeared on my radio show in 2012. In his bestselling book, The Four Agreements, he wrote about this topic. “Every human is an artist. The dream of your life is to make beautiful art.” By following our dreams, we contribute to creating a beautiful world.
2. Do things throughout the day that you know cheer you or inspire you.
Listen to music that you enjoy, read something inspiring, take a nap, walk in nature, exercise, breathe slowly and relax. What activity inspires you? It doesn’t have to be something big. Michael Neill, also a previous guest on the radio show, recommended in his book, Feel Happy Now, creating a list of enjoyable activities and making it a point to do five of them every day. When you make this a daily priority, you are giving yourself the message that you deserve to be treated well. After awhile, you will begin to believe it.
3. Surround yourself with positive people who love themselves and who treat you with love and respect.
Humans best learn by observation. If we observe people who love themselves and who love and respect the people around them, we learn how to do the same. By being around positive loving people, we come to believe that we’re worthy of love and respect.
4. Turn off the negative, derogatory, self-talk.
Our egos flourish on negative self-talk about ourselves and about people around us. The voice in our head might come as the voices of our parents or other important people in our lives, or as our own voice, questioning our worthiness or telling us that we are “victims.” In his book, Stillness Speaks, Eckhart Tolle writes,“Almost every ego contains at least an element of what we might call ‘victim identity.’ Some people have such a strong victim image of themselves that it becomes the central core of their ego.” In order to truly love yourself, it’s important to become aware of this negative chatter and to know that this chatter is not the “truth.” Then, even if we can’t turn it off completely, it will lose it’s power over us and, perhaps, the volume will soften. Says Tolle, “When you recognize that there is a voice in your head that pretends to be you and never stops speaking, you are awakening out of your unconscious identification with the stream of thinking. When you notice that voice, you realize that who you are is not the voice – the thinker – but the one who is aware of it. Knowing yourself as the awareness behind the voice is freedom.” Or, as Michael Neill reminds us, “The voice inside your head is not the voice of God – it just sounds like it thinks it is.”
Beverly Flaxington, The Human Behavior Coach™, was interviewed on the show about her latest book, Self-Talk For a Calmer You. She pointed out, “It’s our own minds, so often, that defeat us. We say things to ourselves and tear ourselves down. The self-talk that we use on ourselves absolutely drains us. Lack of confidence and low self-esteem is very typically an outgrowth of too much negative self talk too often.” Flaxington suggested three simple, but powerful, steps to turn around this type of self-talk.
First, increase your awareness of when you’re talking to yourself in a negative way. “Get in touch with what you’re feeling, such as, ‘I’m feeling blue,’ ‘I’ve got a pain in my stomach,’ or ‘My hands are clammy.” These feelings can act as a gauge to let us know that we need to check in with ourselves about what thoughts we’re thinking in that moment. Then, make an agreement to interrupt the flow of the negative thoughts by using a thought-stopping technique, such as imagining a ‘Stop’ sign or saying ‘Stop!’
Next, to stop the momentum of our negative thinking and feeling, Flaxington suggests that we can use distraction by turning our attention to something that is positive. Choose anything that, “when your attention goes to it, the message to your body and your mind is that this is a positive thing. If we distract ourselves, it gives me, at least, that chance to say, ‘Do I really want to be here with these thoughts or would I like to go somewhere else?’ Most of us will make the better choice for ourselves.” For me, doing yoga, taking a walk, doing some other sort of exercise, listening to relaxing music, meditating, or laughing are effective for interrupting the negative flow of thoughts. Try some of those activities you listed for Tip #2.
Finally, the third step is to replace the negative thought with different language. Try to think of the situation in a more positive way, or, at the very least from a more neutral perspective.
5. Stop listening to negativity of others.
One of The Four Agreements suggested by Don Miguel Ruiz is to not take anything personally. “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” Remember, a person’s tendency to put another down is caused by their own lack of self-love.
6. Forgive others and forgive yourself.
Oprah Winfrey asserts, “When you know better, you do better.” Forgiving doesn’t mean that you’re saying it’s acceptable for others to treat you badly. Nor does it mean that you should spend time with someone who continues to treat you with disrespect. Forgiveness is for you. It’s about letting go of the pain, liberating yourself from the heaviness of holding a grudge. Furthermore, in order to love yourself, you need to forgive yourself for choices you’ve made. Simply, make the decision to try to do better every day. The most that we can ask of ourselves and of people in our life is that we all do the best that we are able to do at this moment.
7. Be of service to others.
Helping someone else is the quickest antidote to depression and it’s also a very powerful way for you to begin to love your self. Lend a hand to a stranger. Try this as an experiment: Donate to someone in need and do it anonymously.
8. Focus attention on what you like about yourself.
You might notice that you’re very good at finding things about yourself that you don’t like. Now, sit down and make a list of those aspects of yourself that you actually like. If you can only come up with one or two, that’s alright for a start. Spend some time every day expanding this list.
9. Treat yourself like you would your own best friend.
Would you be so hard on your best friend about the same things that you’re so hard on yourself about? In our interview, Beverly Flaxington told us, “One person that I was working with along this journey said, and I thought this was such a poignant quote, ‘I say things to myself that are so awful, I would never say them out loud to another human being.’” Try this: Sit down across from an empty chair. Visualize yourself sitting in that chair. Envision that the you in that chair is your BFF (Best Friend Forever), who is sharing with you all of his or her perceived weaknesses.. How would you respond to your BFF? Make it a regular practice to talk to yourself with the same compassion you show to your BFF whenever you start to put yourself down.
10. Just say no.
This is a hard one for many people. But, if you are asked to do things that really take you off track from the goals that you’re working toward, you need to begin to practice saying “no,” or you won’t have the energy to achieve your own dreams. Detours only serve as more fodder for the negative self-talk and create the feeling of not having meaning in your life. Gay Hendricks, in his book, The Big Leap, talks about living in our ‘Zone of Genius.’ This is when we’re following the flow toward our own dreams, toward where we find our purpose, fulfillment, and meaning. Says Hendricks, a “shortcut” to our Zone of Genius is “the Enlightened No.” “I call it the Enlightened No because you’re saying no in the service of your genius….You’re saying no because you’ve chosen to focus on activities that are clearly in your Zone of Genius. Saying no for that reason even has an inspirational effect on the people you’re turning down.” What do you have a pattern of saying “yes” to that only serves to distract you from focusing on following your own dreams? Begin practicing the Enlightened No. This is a very powerful way of demonstrating and fostering self-love.
11. Have a sense of humor, even about your own mistakes.
If we can laugh at ourselves, then we can gain a more realistic perspective that we’re only human and that mistakes are events to learn from, rather than signs that we’re inept or that our character is severely flawed. Wrote early 20th Century author, Katherine Mansfield, “When we begin to take our failures non-seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves.”
Once we learn to love ourselves, then we stop feeling that there is a hole inside that we need to fill with food, drugs, unhealthy relationships, and other addictive behaviors, and we’re more able to live a life of joyfulness, fulfillment, and one filled with joyful, loving relationships. “When we come to know ourselves as the source of love, that love spills out to other people and joy animates our relationships,” writes Shubhraji, in her book, In the Lotus of the Heart.
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